Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects and its Interiors division have been busy helping companies with this changing workplace paradigm.

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The needs of each workplace and its employees are unique.

But, as Murphy and Dittenhafer Architects designs workspaces for today and tomorrow, they’re seeing an overarching trend.

While the specific business and culture matter, “The workplace paradigm is changing,” says Frank Dittenhafer, II, FAIA, LEED AP, President of Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects. “It’s not where you come and work; it’s a landing area where you interact at certain times and days.”

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This, he says, is very different from even five years ago, with employees working remotely or offsite.

Associate Lisa Clemens, who co-leads M&D’s Murphy & Dittenhafer Interiors division, agrees.

“Peer pressure is to be always ready to go, have your laptop or tablet powered up,” she says, noting M&D now often puts raceway systems under carpeting, allowing employees to plug in anywhere.

Open and collaborative are the words

As work is more collaborative, open spaces are now popular and practical, Clemens says.

M&D is helping companies move from the traditional structure of large executive offices on the perimeter to fewer, smaller offices in the center of groups executives lead, smaller workspaces for everyone, and lower walls — all designed to increase discussion and cooperation.

“Companies have to be valid in the eyes of a younger workforce, more used to the acoustics of conversation and moving around as they work,” Clemens says. “This environment helps keep employees in touch as we’ve become less face to face in work habits and more digitally based with computers, tablets, and cell phones.”

The new arrangement allows for several “phone booths,” or small offices where a door can be closed for a private call or discussion, and one or two larger rooms with walls and doors if needed.

How it’s working

When M&D helped move Wagman Construction from the suburbs where everyone had their own offices to downtown York, there was a push in the direction of open workspaces for collaboration, Dittenhafer recalls.

“We only have full height partitions if needed, on the perimeter,” he says. “We created several four-person meeting rooms and one larger 16-person meeting room.”

Every individual work space — project managers, field operatives, the company president — has open work stations. M&D kept exposed wooden beams, retaining the building’s historic character.

Dittenhafer admits to trepidation about acoustics and privacy — “their world was exposed to everyone” — but no problems resulted.

M&D led by example in its downtown York c o d building.

“There are no hallways. There is an art gallery space for people to circulate,” Dittenhafer says. “Clients come here, and it gets the conversation going. We have movable tables, chairs, and a lot of technology.”

It’s also where the Interiors division is located, including a large room for meeting and collaboration.

Lighting it up

The open designs also lend themselves to different lighting.

“It’s not just fluorescents and bright LEDs overhead,” Clemens says. “It’s more intimate lighting. Pendants, sconces, 2”x4” lights on walls that radiate in different directions, giving a more fun sense of space.”

And as much natural light as possible.

“This gives a sense of time of day and season of year, provides changing views, and maximizes openness,” Dittenhafer believes.

The Forum Building in Harrisburg is being transformed for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, moving from little perimeter offices with hallways down the middle to open middle areas with natural light and city views on both sides.

“We’re interviewing different bureaus to see how this will play out,” Clemens says, adding it’s best to get employees, not just executives, involved early in the process.

Making it fun

People have work and home and are seeking that “third place” where they can prop up their feet and feel comfortable. M&D is creating these spaces within the work space.

“Younger workers like to move around. One company proposed a conference table that is also a white board, that folded like a ping-pong table with a white board on each side for two brainstorming sessions at once,” Clemens says. “This was also an actual ping-pong table which helped folks relax. It was not an interruption.”

Clemens adds happier employees are more productive, leading to even more informal conversations and still higher productivity.

Dittenhafer sees a constant in designing spaces for this changing workplace paradigm while meeting each company’s needs.

“It’s about people,” he says, “no matter what or where.”


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